King leaves the ring

Indervir Grewal

Chandigarh, April 27

Kaur Singh’s life story was as inspirational as it was unique. From a 20-year-old uneducated farmer in a small village in Punjab, Singh became a household name in the 1980s before spending his final years in anonymity.

The legendary boxer, known for his simplicity and determination, passed away today at the age of 74. The heavyweight boxer, who was an Asian Games champion and famously fought an exhibition match against the great Muhammad Ali, passed away at a hospital in Kurukshetra where he was reportedly undergoing treatment for multiple health problems.

Singh, who had retired from the Army in 1991, was cremated with military honours at Khanal Khurd in Sangrur district. He is survived by two sons and a daughter.

Late bloomer

Singh’s life was a perfect example of how any goal can be achieved with hard work. Singh, who joined the army in 1971, started boxing in his late 20s. His introduction to the sport came at a small boxing meet at Sunam. What began with an unplanned decision became an obsession for Singh. “He was a simple man, very straightforward,” said Prem Sharma, a former boxing coach at the NIS Patiala. “But he was so determined and committed to his sport. I was a student at the NIS when he was there at the national camp for the 1984 Olympics. He was so fit, had great endurance in the ring. He was also very fast; though a heavyweight boxer, he could run as fast as a lightweight,” he added.

It was this determination that helped Singh become an unconquerable force within a few years of making his debut. He reigned as the national champion for Services from 1979 to 1983.

Asian conqueror

His international record was even more envious. After making a triumphant international debut at the Asian Championships in Mumbai in 1980, he won gold at the King’s Cup in Bangkok and the Asian Championships in Seoul in 1982 before achieving his biggest feat later that year by winning the Asian Games title in New Delhi. He called it the proudest moment of his career.

The newfound stardom, though, did not change Singh’s unassuming nature. During an interview after the Asian Games, Singh was asked how he felt about receiving the gold medal from Amitabh Bachchan. To everyone’s surprise, Singh said he did not know who Bachchan was. “That showed his innocence, which also made him endearing. We became close friends after 1984,” said Sharma.

Singh, who received the Arjuna Award in 1982 and the Padma Shri in 1983, also participated in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, losing in the third round. Despite all his achievements, Singh’s claim to fame remained his bout against former world heavyweight champion Ali in 1980. In a four-round exhibition bout in New Delhi, Singh got a firsthand experience of Ali’s greatness.

Return to roots

After retiring from the Army as a Subedar, he joined the Punjab Police as an Assistant Sub-Inspector, and even worked as a coach with their boxing team. He retired in 2007 and returned to his farming roots in his village. Away from the spotlight, he would spend time working in his fields. He also constantly tried to inspire youngsters in his village to take up sports.

Critical of the administrators and governments for ignoring his achievements, Singh grew even more dissatisfied when serious health issues affected his monetary situation. After spending over 20 days in hospital in late 2017, Singh had told The Tribune that the government’s “indifferent attitude hurt him the most”.

In the ring with Ali

In 1980, Muhammad Ali featured in three four-round exhibition bouts with Indian boxers in New Delhi. One of the lucky ones to have traded punches with the legend was Kaur Singh. The other two Indian boxers were Maluk Singh and Brij Mohan. “I think it was just before the Asian Amateur Boxing Championship in Mumbai,” Kaur Singh had told The Tribune seven years ago. “We were attending a national camp in Patiala and were called to a stadium near Pragati Maidan in New Delhi. The bout took place during the day, and a lot of people gathered to have a look at him. It was not a bout exactly; it was just a spectacle for the crowd. He was shorter than me but his ring craft and movement took him out of my reach,” Singh had said.

Remember the name

  • After joining Indian Army in 1971, Kaur Singh took to boxing in 1977
  • Won gold medals in National Championships from 1979 to 1983
  • Bagged six gold medals in international competitions, including the Asian Games title in 1982
  • Received the Arjuna Award in 1982 and the Padma Shri in 1983
  • In the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, he won two bouts but lost the third
  • Retired as Subedar from the Army

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